Give War a Chance

With the UN Security Council’s passage of a cease-fire resolution that is being deservedly ignored by Hamas and Israel, the war has reached a Luttwakian phase. Edward Luttwak, the great military strategist, wrote a famous essay in 1999 entitled “Give War a Chance.” He was not kidding. The piece opened like this:

An unpleasant truth often overlooked is that although war is a great evil, it does have a great virtue: it can resolve political conflicts and lead to peace. This can happen when all belligerents become exhausted or when one wins decisively. Either way the key is that the fighting must continue until a resolution is reached. War brings peace only after passing a culminating phase of violence. Hopes of military success must fade for accommodation to become more attractive than further combat.

The Israeli calculation now must weigh the temporary detriment of international condemnation against the longer-lasting and more damaging effects of leaving Hamas in power. Luttwak concludes:

Too many wars nowadays become endemic conflicts that never end because the transformative effects of both decisive victory and exhaustion are blocked by outside intervention. Unlike the ancient problem of war, however, the compounding of its evils by disinterested interventions is a new malpractice that could be curtailed. Policy elites should actively resist the emotional impulse to intervene in other peoples’ wars — not because they are indifferent to human suffering but precisely because they care about it and want to facilitate the advent of peace.

It is difficult to understand the American strategy in abstaining from the UNSC vote. Hopefully, the vote was a result of a U.S.-Israeli deal: the U.S. would allow the passage of a largely meaningless resolution in order to front-load the mollification of international peace-processors, knowing that Israel would ignore it; and in later phases, the U.S. will step forward to provide diplomatic support should the need arise. That is a best-case reading; alternatively, the U.S.’s abstention could be an indication of where the incoming administration wishes to take the conflict — toward irresolution and even greater future bloodshed.

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Give War a Chance

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